Burton Morris is many things—an American pop artist in the tradition of fellow Pittsburgh native and Carnegie Mellon alum Andy Warhol, a former advertising art director and a lifelong devotee of comic superheroes, which he taught himself to draw at the age of three, when a well-intentioned attempt to imitate Tarzan on the monkey bars put the budding artist in a full-body cast for two and a half months. And come this fall, Morris can add “Playboy artist” to the list. On November 9, the artist will debut an original collection of Playboy-inspired work at Taglialatella gallery in New York City.
The city helped form Burton’s creative sensibility in other ways. “When you look at my work,” he says, “you can see I’ve tried to take single objects and logo-esque forms and create an inspired piece. Usually my message has been based on what is going on in pop culture. Pittsburgh has changed immensely, but back then, I remember smoky steel mills and big blast furnaces. I know that had an impression on me.”
Burton’s subconscious attraction to “cartoons, bright colors and pop-like things” set the stage not only for his career but for his 2017 collaboration with Playboy. Our Rabbit first burrowed into Morris’s visual lexicon decades ago when he encountered a collection of playboys in a friend’s attic and was immediately inspired by the visuals—though not, as you might assume, the nude pictorials. “The magazine was full of art,” Burton explains. “The pop art movement really inspired me, and playboy embraced artists. Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Tom Wesselmann, Alberto Vargas, LeRoy Neiman, Peter Max—they all worked on playboy. When I think about how playboy has inspired generations of great artists—I mean, incredible artists—and someone like me who was just begging to see more art, it really was a great breakthrough.”
If Warhol’s big break was soup cans and bananas, Burton’s was coffee and vodka. He entered the limelight—quite literally—in 1992, with a painting of a coffee cup that contributed to the visual identity of the hit NBC show Friends. (The piece hung in “Central Perk” for 10 seasons.) That same year, Burton was selected as the Pennsylvania artist representative for an Absolut campaign, which introduced his work to vodka drinkers across the world.
Since then, he has developed a portfolio characterized by distinctively American collaborations with Coca-Cola, Heinz, the Academy Awards and the U.S. State Department, as well as international commissions for megabrands such as Chanel, Rolex and Perrier.
Collaborating with Playboy was a natural next chapter. “Playboy always stuck out in my head. It's out there and always has been.” Burton Morris: Painting Playboy, which was on view at Taglialatella Galleries November 10, 2017 through December 8, 2017, consisted of 64 unique spray paint and silkscreen on canvas paintings, highlighting the classic Playboy Rabbit Head logo. Each painting measured 16x12 inches and was numbered starting with the year of the first magazine that was published in 1953. Above, we take you inside Morton's rich history as an artist through the debut of Painting Playboy, which included Playmates Nina Daniele and Val Keil. Below, a visual timeline of Morris's most recognized work.
Empire State. 36x36 inches, acrylic paint on canvas.
Five Flavors. Quad painting, acrylic paint on canvas.
Artist Burton Morris working on an in-progress painting.
Coke 100. Painting installation of 100 Coca-cola bottles.
Coca Cola 100 - Red, White and Blue.